Friday, February 5, 2010

Hard Times Come Again No More

 I heard a repeat program on Saint Paul Sunday the other day featuring Thomas Hampson and pianist Craig Rutenberg (who also appears briefly in the documentary The Audition).  I've had the good fortune not only to have heard this particular program before, but also to have heard Hampson live many times at the Metropolitan Opera, and am delighted that he is now devoting a considerable amount of time and energy to advocating for the American art song tradition.  On the program, he sang Stephen Foster's beautiful "Hard Times Come Again No More," written in 1854, as an art song, rather than as the American folk song it's become since the Civil War, and it was heartbreaking; if you can figure out how to make the listening device work on the Saint Paul Sunday website (linked above), you can hear it.  In the meantime, I offer this lovely performance in memory of Kate McGarrigle (1946-2010).

The text Foster set, incidentally, has a lot of resonance with Catholic social teaching:
Let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many tears,
While we all sup sorrow with the poor;
There's a song that will linger forever in our ears;
Oh Hard times come again no more.
Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard Times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh hard times come again no more.
While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay,
There are frail forms fainting at the door;
Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say
Oh hard times come again no more.
There's a pale drooping maiden who toils her life away,
With a worn heart whose better days are o'er:
Though her voice would be merry, 'tis sighing all the day,
Oh hard times come again no more.
Tis a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wave,
Tis a wail that is heard upon the shore
Tis a dirge that is murmured around the lowly grave
Oh hard times come again no more.


Anonymous said...

These words remind me of Thomas Hood's "song of the Shirt", about sweated labour.

"With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A Woman sat, in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread --
Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with the voice of dolorous pitch
She sang the "Song of the Shirt!"

Do you know of any song setting for this poem?


Pentimento said...

Otepoti, you are a regular Victorianist! :)

Evidently there are several art-song settings of the "Song of the Shirt," one by Sidney Homer, the wife of the great contralto Louise and uncle of Samuel Barber:

If you google around a bit, you might find more.

Anonymous said...

Oh, well, Victoria was a VERY popular personage here. There are statues all over the place, and there's even a small town, the name of which translates as "The Footstool of Queen Victoria".

Isn't there a rather nice Linda Ronstadt version of "Hard Times"?


Pentimento said...

Otepoti, you are a dangerous woman. Thanks to you, I downloaded and printed an 1870-ish setting of "Song of the Shirt" from the website of Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection at Johns Hopkins University, and I think it's good enough to include in a concert I'm doing in June of music by and about Victorian women (uncharacteristically, I don't have any repertoire from the point of view of the Victorian oppressed, or at least didn't, until you corrupted me). I also ordered facsimilies of a couple of mid-nineteenth-century settings of the poem from the British Library, and am going to request the Homer setting through Interlibrary Loan at the university library here.

I thought that after grad school I would be done with all my freakish projects. I'm going to have to blame you in the program notes.

I don't know the Ronstadt setting. I was never a huge fan of hers, but like her better in retrospect.

Incidentally, Thomas Hood wrote another famous poem, "The Bridge of Sighs," which I discussed in my dissertation.

Anonymous said...

My mother used to declaim this poem in lugubrious tones, to make us realize how lucky we were.

She'd follow it up with a short historical discourse on the influence of Rutherford Waddell, a clergyman whose 1888 sermon "The Sin of Cheapness", kept NZ from going the same way.

Heh, dangerous. I'll hold that thought as I cook the dinner.



Anonymous said...

Oh, man!

"Take her up tenderly,
Lift her with care" -

Man, oh, man, I'd quite forgotten. My mother used to quote THAT one as well, as a dreadful warning of what could become of Bad Girls.

Man, it's a wonder I'm as sane as I am...


Pentimento said...

Wow, Otepoti, your mother sounds like a Victorian herself, combining an urging toward uplift of the poor with a horror of sexual sin and a conviction of its dire consequences . . . she is doubtless the gate that stood between you and waywardness. ;)

Rodak said...

Your blog is richly spiked with treasures. Thank you for the McGarrigle Sisters (& friends) clip. Their song "Heart Like a Wheel" is one of my favorites. I find Linda Ronstadt's rendition of it to be particularly beautiful.

Pentimento said...

Thank, Rodak. I like "Heart Like a Wheel" too.